by Keri Marshall, N.D.
Missing time from work during cold and flu season due to illness can be quite costly for anyone, especially for a massage therapist. And yet in this line of work, exposure to germs from clients is likely one of the most significant occupational risks relative to other jobs. What can you do this season, besides washing your hands, to help support your immune system? First, you must examine your personal routines, such as eating, drinking and sleeping.
Your best defense is consistent healthy living, which comes from staying well rested and well nourished. When your body feels fatigued and undernourished, it makes you more susceptible to bacteria and viruses that linger around us. When your body is healthy, your immune system tackles these invading organisms before they have a chance to make you sick.
You must consume at least five servings of fruits and vegetables daily because these foods contain phytonutrients, which simply cannot be found in a daily multivitamin. These nutrients are different from vitamins A, B and C in that they contain other naturally occurring plant complexes that exist only in plant matter. These nutrients are, in part, what make blueberries blue and strawberries red and are often referred to as antioxidants. Antioxidants are important to cellular health and can provide integrity to the immune system, especially when it is being challenged.
Try to consume at least half of your body weight in water. Staying hydrated is critical for cellular health as well as helping the body in proper nutrient assimilation and elimination. For example, if you weigh 140 pounds, try to drink 70 ounces of water daily. As for sleep, listen to your body. If you are tired, go to bed early and don’t try to fight it. Eight hours a night is necessary to give your body time to recover from the day and prepare for the next.
It is important to understand that if you do get the flu, it is not immediately curable but rather self-limiting. What this means is it will affect your body based on the current health of your body. In other words, the severity and duration of symptoms will likely impact you based on your body’s state of health going into cold and flu season. If your body is well nourished, well rested and de-stressed, your body will be better able to take on the immune challenge and recover in ample amount of time.
But despite putting our best foot forward, eating the perfect whole-foods organic diet and sleeping eight hours a night, who isn’t stressed? We are currently living through a challenging economic time, for which we have all been impacted.
However, there is hope. Administered during the onset of a cold or flu, the right herbal medicines can impact a cold’s symptoms as well as duration. The million-dollar question is, what are those herbs and how do I get them? Keep in mind that just like cars, food, appliances and clothing, not all herbal products are created equal.
As far as supplements go, if the product seems especially cheap, there is usually a reason behind this. An exceptionally low price usually signifies poor quality raw materials—and perhaps less integrity in the final product, suggesting a lowered efficacy. While you don’t necessarily need to purchase the most expensive herbal product you find, you should investigate the company at hand and explore its manufacturing practice. Does the company grow and harvest its own products? Does it import raw material from China? Does it use organic herbs? Does it fill its capsule with unnecessary binders and fillers? This is usually the case with cheaper products, resulting in a lowered medicinal potency.
That being said, there are high potency products available based on traditional herbal wisdom and science. A potent Echinacea root product can be taken immediately at onset, with high frequency to help the body manage the immediate inflammatory reaction that occurs at onset of symptoms. When mucous membranes are challenged by germs, they become inflamed and secrete mucous in response. Scientific studies show Echinacea root can help curb this immediate inflammatory response, helping to support the body during this process.
For people who find themselves struggling throughout the entire cold and flu season, catching everything that comes their way, try an Echinacea product that contains the aerial, or above-ground portions of the plant, which works to strengthen and support the body’s immune system, in turn helping to promote a healthy immune system all season long. Echinacea aerial parts are naturally high in immune polysaccharides and are particularly good for those who find they tend to get sick more when they are stressed out, or just not eating and sleeping the way they know they should.
Keri Marshall is a licensed naturopathic doctor who specializes in pediatrics, women’s medicine and chronic disease management. Marshall has published several scientific papers, magazine articles and a book on proteins and amino acids. Media savvy, she regularly does nationally syndicated radio shows and has appeared on ABC’s “A View from the Bay” and PBS’s “Health Quest.” Marshall has served as a scientific adviser to Citizens for Health, a clinical advisor to Nordic Naturals, a nutrition advisor to the U.S. Sugar Association and as a nutrition expert in her local public school district. She is currently medical director for Gaia Herbs (www.GaiaHerbs.com), an organic herbal products company.